Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says lawmakers are “making good progress” in bipartisan negotiations on a marijuana banking bill, and advancing it will be a priority for what he’s expecting to be a “very, very productive fall in the Senate.”
At a press conference focused on the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Thursday, Schumer previewed his plans for the fall after lawmakers come back from an August recess, proactively mentioning the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act twice in a list of issues that top lawmakers are working on.
“We’re making good progress on SAFE Banking, which, as you know, has always been a priority for me,” he said. “So there’s a lot to do when we get back.”
The majority leader previously said that he wanted to address cannabis banking reform during the summer session. But that’s now come to a close without action, as senators continue to debate one section of the bill that some Democrats want to amend or remove but Republicans are determined to keep.
“We have a whole bunch we’re working on it been working very diligently on [legislative priorities] during this time—including $35 insulin where we’re making great bipartisan progress, including the rail bill where we’re making progress, including SAFE Banking where we’re making progress, including FAA where we’re making progress,” Schumer said. “We’re making progress and a whole lot of these, and I think you’re going to find a very, very productive fall in the Senate.”
“We’re close on a few of them,” he said. “You don’t always have a final handshake. On a few of them, we have agreement on the concept.”
Earlier this week, a lobbyist who briefly spoke with Schumer said the majority leader told him that “we’re working on it” with respect to the SAFE Banking Act.
In order to make further progress on the bill when they return in September, key senators will need to reach an agreement on the sticky Section 10 disagreement. Democrats like Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) have pushed for revising or eliminating the section, arguing that it would broadly undermine banking regulations. But Republicans view that as a “non-starter.”
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and lead SAFE Banking Act cosponsor Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) have sparred over next steps in recent weeks. Brown has insisted that Daines needs to secure more GOP cosponsors, but Daines argues that Republicans are already prepared to move the legislation as previously agreed to through the floor.
Daines has also previously cautioned against attempting to expand the measure with social justice reforms that progressives would like to add, though his office has told Marijuana Moment that the senator is “open” to adding expungements language, as proposed by Schumer.
Meanwhile, the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH)—along with trade groups representing marijuana businesses in 16 states plus Washington, D.C.—sent a letter to Brown and Banking Committee Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-SC) last week, imploring them to pass the cannabis banking bill “without further delay.”
Schumer also recently spoke with a cannabis industry leader who approached him at an unrelated event last month, and according to that entrepreneur, the Senate leader is feeling “confident” about the prospects of passing the cannabis banking bill.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), for his part, said last month that he’s a “yes” on the legislation. He just doubts that Democratic leadership will follow through on their pledge to get the job done this year.
As its currently drafted, the measure would protect banks and credit unions, as well as depository institutions, from being penalized by federal regulators for working with state-licensed cannabis businesses.
Others have also floated other changes that they’d like to see incorporated into the cannabis bill such as expanding protections to free up marijuana industry access to all forms of financial services, including representation on major U.S. stock exchanges.
That request has faced some criticism from other advocates who say that would be an inappropriate move to help businesses while efforts to legalize marijuana stall in Congress.
A major cannabis lobbying firm apologized in May after sending a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership concerning the banking bill that contained “inappropriate” references to investments from China in a “misguided attempt” to push for amendments expanding the legislation.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) also recently said that she wanted the SAFE Banking Act to pass with an amendment allowing cannabis businesses to access federal Small Business Administration (SBA) services.
In April, Schumer said that he was “disappointed” that a so-called SAFE Plus package of cannabis reform legislation didn’t advance last year, saying “we came close,” but “we ran into opposition in the last minute.” He said lawmakers will continue to “work in a bipartisan way” to get the job done.
The majority leader has been holding meetings with Democratic and Republican members in the early months of the new Congress to discuss cannabis reform proposals that might have bipartisan buy-in this year.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said recently that lawmakers are working to “resurrect” the cannabis reform package, acknowledging that failure to advance a banking fix for the industry “literally means that hundreds of businesses go out of business.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who is a lead sponsor of the House version of the SAFE Banking Act, said at a recent press briefing that thinks it’s important that advocates and lawmakers align on any incremental proposals to end the drug war, warning against an “all-or-nothing” mentality.
The American Bankers Association (ABA) also recently renewed its call for the passage of the legislation. And all 50 of its state chapters did the same, as did insurance and union organizations, in recent letters to congressional leadership.
This month also marked the 10-year anniversary since the introduction of the first version of what is now known as the SAFE Banking Act.